Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Climb every mountain!

This has nothing to do with climbing. Maybe we did a small bit of bouldering, but no climbing.
Before I registered for the Powerscourt AR in September, I was already registered for the Killarney AR in October. I figured three weeks between them would be plenty to recover, train and taper...
Last Saturday was the Powerscourt AR. It was my first solo AR, having done Killarney last year as part of a 3 person team. At Powerscourt there is a long (around 65k) route and a Sport route (around 39k). I did the long route because...well, because!
My training wasn't ideal due to achilles issues, but I was able to do a couple of bike sessions and a couple of short runs a week, along with strength & conditioning.
The day started out at 6am with a large breakfast of bacon, eggs, coffee etc. After getting into my racing gear and an outer layer I had to put the bike carrier on the car. We had only bought the carrier the previous week and only had one chance to adjust it to fit. Race day was the first time I had put the bike on it or driven with it. Luckily all was well and had no issues :-)
I was hoping my family would come along to cheer me on at the start/finish line, but realistically I didn't know how long I would take and there wasn't a lot in the immediate area for the kids to do, so I travelled on my own.
Being early on a Saturday it took less than an hour to get to Powerscourt and park up, but I was still at sign on before it opened. Even the coffee/snack van wasn't ready! So I kept myself hydrated, signed on (first one there!), grabbed a coffee and got my gear together.
The bike had made it in one piece and without scratching the car, bonus! After a short wait, we had the pre-race briefing at 10:00. There was advice about the route and warnings about spot checks for mandatory gear (which never happened - to me anyway). Then we had 20 mins until the rolling cycle start. There were about 120 people doing the long course, so not enough to clog up the roads/trails, which was good. The RD's car drove out the downhill section to the main road, about 1km from the start/finish, and then we were off.
I was under no illusions about being fast, I was in this to survive until the end, that's all. Here's the elevation of the cycling on stage 1:

For some reason the distance is in miles and the height is in feet - nothing to do with me I'm afraid!
I kept to a steady pace and let the faster cyclists roar ahead. Some of them were excellent multi-sports people and some were good cyclists but not great runners. I was to catch some of them up on the runs later.
On stage two, the first mountain run, I got to run up & back down the Great Sugar Loaf mountain. I've wanted to do this for over a year, and part of the reason I did this AR was this mountain. It's totally exposed, no trees or bushes really. Just rocks small and large.
I doubt the angles are accurate, but I do know that the last part near the summit is a good 45 degrees. That's where the bouldering came in, glad I kept my cycling gloves on!
For the Killarney AR last year I had worn my VFF KSO Treks, which are excellent for cross country running. Unfortunately with the amount of sharp rocks they didn't provide much protection for my arches and heels. They still feel bruised today, four days later.
Anyway, the run back down (once we had passed the section of rocks) was easy going and I got back on the bike and sped off.
Stage three I really enjoyed, easily my favourite section! It was reasonably straight and mainly downhill. I got to spend the majority of it in top gear.
At the end of stage three, we had to get off the bikes and run with them for a couple of hundred metres to the bike drop. As I was running with the bike I was drinking from my camelbak and once I put the bike in the rack and got my helmet and camelbak off I took a large bite from a protein bar and started running to the shore for the kayaks, while eating. All of the kayaks were two person, and as I was running down a marshall shouted to me that there was another racer waiting, so I ran faster. A marshall held out a buoyancy vest and I just bent at the waist, shot my arms straight in front and ran into the vest and when I stood up I pulled it down and fastened the straps - while still running...and eating. When I got to the kayak we pushed it into the water and started out on the 2km triangular course. I had also taken off my Garmin, as it's a 305 and I'm pretty sure it's not waterproof. Anyway, even if I had kept the Garmin on I doubt there'd be much point in showing you the elevation of the kayak stage...
After we got out of the kayak and positioned it for the next people to just jump in and paddle away, we shook hands, took off the buoyancy vests and ran back to the bikes. I ate some more protein bar while I put my Garmin, bike helmet and camelbak on. Then we had to run with the bikes over the dam to the main road into Roundwood. During this I drank more water. Once on the road I didn't see another racer for probably 25 mins. I think the ones who had finished the kayak stage were changing from runners back to cycling shoes, not sure. But I did see one guy take the time to dry his feet off. A good idea, but as I didn't have anything with me to do that I didn't bother.
Stage five was the longer cycle that went over Sally Gap, a notorious section in the Wicklow Mountains. The uphill sections were torture. I can testify that walking is sometimes faster than cycling! Despite the downhill at the end, it didn't allow me to make up lots of time for the uphill. This one section was responsible for my quads being knackered for the rest of the race. At the start of this stage I had my first electrolyte tablet and I took on water and almonds or walnuts regularly.
I was quite glad to get to the start of stage 6, but by now my legs were fried and I could only manage a slow run.
All along the mountain runs the directions were marked by white plastic sticks in the ground. If you look closely at the elevation for stage six, the place where it flattens out slightly just before the peak is where a bunch of us went off the course and right to the summit. Seven of us met at the top with no white sticks to show the way, no checkpoint and no marshalls. We had a good look around but couldn't see any sign of life, so we headed back down. I said at the time "If we don't move soon we'll get very cold very fast". Sure enough, once we got back to that flat section we saw the white sticks going through a gap in the fence and around the side of the mountain. We ended up running about 2k extra. Anyhow, we checked in and got running down the mountain again back to the bikes.
I wasn't looking forward to cycling again, but I knew this was the last stage and it was short!
The last stage started out flat then had a really good but winding downhill section. I was holding both brakes trying to stay on the left of the road as all roads were open to cars! Taking a corner too fast could have been pretty nasty. During the briefing we were told that there was "one last hill" in stage seven. He lied. I loved than big downhill, where I could rest the legs but keep moving. Then I started to question how we could be getting back to the start/finish area without going up another hill. My question was answered once we re-entered the Powerscourt Estate! It was uphill pretty much all the way to the finish from there. Like one last punch to the head as you are falling to the floor in a boxing ring...
Seeing the finish line was a fantastic experience. We had to cycle in, rack the bikes and then run about 60m over the timing mat. That last run was probably one of my slowest ever!
There weren't many people left by that stage. The winner had finished in a little over 4 hours and I had taken 5:32. I immediately got my recovery drink from my car along with a few bananas, an apple and a coffee and sat on the grass near the finish line while I had them and did some stretching. I saw a couple of other racers come in, so I wasn't last.
After packing up my gear and getting the bike mounted on the car again I set off home and spent the rest of the day keeping hydrated and eating lots! I've noticed I don't usually sleep well the night after a long race - not sure why though.

So, next stop Killarney!!

Eoin